By Rod Baltzer
It appears to me that the scientific and generating community is rallying around the concept of consolidated interim storage of used nuclear fuel. The growing momentum of consensus on this issue can be tracked by the continuous coverage in both the trade and mainstream press.
In just the past few days, Science Today published a lengthy article (“Roll Out the Welcome Mat for Nuclear Waste,” July 10, 2015) and the Houston Chronicle published an editorial by Dr. Bernard Weinstein, a professor of Business Economics at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University (“Allow Private Companies to Store Used Nuclear Fuel,” July 9, 2015).
In Dr. Weinstein’s piece he points out that the “In 2000, the DOE was required by law to take title to the used fuel, which remains in temporary storage at 75 operating and decommissioned reactor sites in 33 states. Nationally, about 75,000 metric tons of used fuel is being stored on site, including 2,430 tons in Texas.”
In summary, Dr. Weinstein makes a very compelling article and we have posted it here. (live link). About the only item I would quibble with Dr. Weinstein on his statement that begins “With the future of Yucca Mountain in doubt…”
While Yucca Mountain remains snarled in a political stalemate in Washington, D.C., I am absolutely convinced that ultimately there will be a permanent geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel in the United States and from all the studies that have been done to date indicate, Yucca Mountain appears to be an excellent site. The federal government should not walk away from a $10 billion investment and we should insist that the licensing process that began at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 2008 be allowed to move forward.
However, I also believe that the Department of Energy (DOE), the NRC, and the Nevada state oversight agencies will continue to move very deliberately on every aspect of siting, permitting and constructing this final repository. If Yucca Mountain was given the green light tomorrow (by federal, state, and local regulatory agencies) it would still be 20 years before it would begin to accept material.
It may not be obvious, but I think the sooner we successfully launch interim storage for the waste currently stranded at non-operating generators, which will demonstrate that the material can be safely transported and stored, the sooner the opponents of nuclear waste disposal will have to admit that the United States can meet this challenge.
And we have to – because nuclear energy is just too important to the country right now.
As Dr. Weinstein points out:
“Though no new reactors have come on line in almost two decades, America’s 100 operating nuclear plants currently provide almost 20 percent of the nation’s electricity.
What’s more nuclear energy is the most environmentally benign of all base load power sources, emitting no greenhouse gases, mercury, particulates or other pollutants. Nuclear plants operate around the clock safely and reliably, thereby providing stability to the power grid, and are not subject to the price volatility associated with gas-fired plants.”
Weinstein concludes with a call to action to Congress to allow private facilities to accept and store the growing quantity of used fuel.
As a representative of one of the private companies Weinstein mentions, I must say we are glad to be part of the conversation and hope to be able to be operating a Consolidated Interim Storage Facility in the next five years. That will put the country one step closer to permanent disposal.